CONFIDENCE IN PERSONAL INTEGRITY FORTIFIES FAITH IN GOD’S SOVEREIGN WORKING DESPITE THE FRUSTRATION OF PERPLEXING SUFFERING
John Hartley: In his first speech of the third cycle Job ignores the friends. With great confidence he focuses his attention on arguing the merits of his case to God. Then he delivers a long complaint, claiming that the righteous do not see the times of judgment that God is supposed to set for the wicked. These two sections are a statement of confidence (23:1–17), and a complaint about unjust social conditions (24:1–25).
Tremper Longman: Job’s response to Eliphaz takes the form of an expression of desire to encounter God and deal with him directly. After stating the depth of his depression over the matter, he then articulates his wish to find and talk with God (vv. 2–5). His speech is filled with conflicting emotions and thoughts. In vv. 6–7, for instance, he believes that God would receive his admonitions well and not bully him. As he thinks about it more and recognizes his inability thus far to find God, his attitude takes a turn for the worse. He says he cannot find God anywhere, but if God chooses to find him, then he will set God straight (vv. 8–10). The idea of meeting with God terrifies him (vv. 13–16), though he also believes that his obedience has been stellar (vv. 11–12). In spite of his fear, he ends with determination even in the light of the danger (v. 17). This speech thus fits in with other times when Job wrestles with his desire to meet with God (9:11–24, 32–35; 16:19–22; 19:23–27; 31:35–37). He believes that this is the only way he has to go forward. At times he thinks it will be helpful, and at other times he reveals a more resigned attitude that such a meeting will be fruitless.
Delitzsch: In the first part of the speech (ch. xxiii.) he [Job] occupies himself with the mystery of his own suffering lot, and in the second part (ch. xxiv.) with the reverse of this mystery, the evil-doers’ prosperity and immunity from punishment.
Adam Clarke: Job answers; apologizes for his complaining; wishes to plead his cause in the presence of his Maker, from whom he knows he should receive justice; but regrets that he cannot find him, 1-9. He, however, gives himself and his cause up to God, with the conviction of his own innocence, and God’s justice and goodness, 10-14. He is, nevertheless, afraid when he considers the majesty of his Maker, 15-17.
Mason: Job’s strongest assertions of faith seem always to be coupled with equally strong assertions of fear and pain. In this chapter his confidence in his own righteousness is more unassailable than ever, yet at the same time ‘thick darkness covers’ his face and he is filled with dread. Somehow Job’s faith is elastic enough to embrace simultaneously both terror and confidence.
John Gill: This and the following chapter contain Job’s reply to the last oration of Eliphaz; in this he first declares his present sorrowful estate and condition, Job 23:1; wishes he knew where to find God, as a judge sitting on a throne, before whom he might lay his cause, and plead it, and have his judgment and final decision passed upon it; when he doubted not but he would deal favourably with him, and both admit him and strengthen him, to plead his own cause, and would acquit him forever from the charges laid against him, Job 23:3; in order to which he sought for him everywhere, but could not find him, but contents himself with this, that God knew his way; and that, after trial of him, he should shine like pure gold, and appear to be no apostate from him, but one sincerely obedient to his commands, and a true lover of his word, Job 23:8; and as for his afflictions, they were the result of the unalterable purposes and appointments of God: but what gave him the greatest uneasiness was, that there were more of that sort yet to come, which filled him with fears and faintings, with trouble and darkness.
David Clines: The nodal verses of the speech are two: “Oh that I knew how I might find him” (23:3) and “Why are days of assize not kept by the Almighty?” (24:1). On these two key sentences, each in headline position, hangs the whole matter of the speech, its first half concerned with Job’s fruitless quest for justice for himself, and the second with the evidences of God’s failure to keep order in the moral universe.
(:1) PROLOGUE – JOB REPLIES ONCE AGAIN
“Then Job replied,”
I. (:2-7) MY CASE DESERVES A FAIR HEARING BEFORE GOD
Francis Andersen: Here Job’s courageous honesty is seen at its best. His consuming desire is to come face to face with God (3), not by a contrived penance, as Eliphaz recommends, but in fair trial (4). Job has abandoned his earlier hesitation and self-mistrust (9:14–20, 32; 13:18). He is now confident that he will be able to state his case persuasively (4). He is confident of acquittal (7). He is prepared to answer charges (5; cf. 13:22). Earlier, when everyone had been emphasizing the infinite power of God, Job had dreaded such a meeting, even while he was demanding it. Fully aware that God is ‘not a man’ (9:32), he expected to be paralyzed with terror (9:34; 13:21) when it was his turn to speak. Behind this anxiety lay an even more shattering thought. What if the difference between God and man is so great that each has a different moral code and Job finds that there is no common ground to argue on? The friends’ songs in praise of God’s justice, instead of making Job feel guilty, have had the opposite effect. Now he is certain that he is in the right (7a: the key word of Job 1:1), and equally sure that God will not take unfair advantage of his superior strength (6a), but will give him a fair hearing (6b). The acquittal he expects is not the pardon of a guilty man by grace, but the vindication of a righteous man by law.
Tremper Longman: Often Job and the friends begin a speech with an insult or two directed at their opponents. Job forgoes that here and starts with a statement about his own mental state. He is deeply depressed, evidenced by his frequent and heavy groaning. Thus his complaint toward God and his friends is bitter. Rather than leading to resignation, though, his mental state motivates his desire to come into God’s presence. He wants to find God (v. 3) with the purpose of setting him straight (v. 4). Behind his words stands the belief that if he could just find God, he could set God straight (reprove him, v. 4). The language continues to be legal, thus suggesting a courtroom setting. He wants to set his case before God. Presumably, this means that he wants to argue for his innocence and that he does not deserve the suffering that he presently experiences.
David Clines: Job launches into a powerful expression of his own urgent desire for a settlement of his dispute with God. There is a compelling mixture here of confidence and despair. He believes that if he could find the occasion to present his case to God he would be given a fair hearing and would emerge triumphant. But he knows also that there is no chance that he can stand in court with God; the wish, “Oh that I knew where I might find him” (v 3), is a hopeless one. God cannot be compelled to court, so Job has recognized already (9:19); but neither can any wistfulness or yearning bring about the showdown that Job deserves.
A. (:2) My Complaints Are Not Making Any Difference
1. My Complaints Are Criticized as Rebellion
“Even today my complaint is rebellion;”
2. My Complaints Are Legitimate Due to Severe Suffering
“His hand is heavy despite my groaning.”
John Hartley: Ignoring Eliphaz’s eloquent call to repentance, Job opens this speech by stating that his complaint is bitter (merî). His groanings (ʾanāḥâ; cf. 3:24), evoked by his agony, are so severe that he has to control himself with a heavy hand. His pain is pushing hard against the threshold of his self-control. Job wishes his friends to know that his strong words do not arise from slight discomfort.
David Thompson: Verse 2 is tricky and it may mean one of many things. It is possible Job is responding to these three by saying,
– “Even though I am groaning because of heavy trouble that I am experiencing, all you guys do is view me as a complainer who is in rebellion.” In other words, it would not matter what Job said; these three kept saying he was rebellious and a complainer.
– Another possibility is that Job is saying–“I am a bitter complainer and I do rebel against all that has happened because I have experienced all of these negative, heavy things and I did not deserve it.”
Both of these interpretations are possible and both were true!
B. (:3-5) My Compulsion Is to Plead My Case in Person
1. (:3) Longing to Find and Approach God
“Oh that I knew where I might find Him,
That I might come to His seat!”
John Hartley: Job builds his conviction on the hymnic theme that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne (e.g., Ps. 89:15 [Eng. 141; 97:2).
David Thompson: Eliphaz had challenged Job to turn to God and Job says I would if I could find Him. Most people have a healthy fear of facing God as well as they should. In fact, most people will do whatever they can to dismiss the idea from their minds. Job wanted to appear before God and get to the bottom of this.
2. (:4) Longing to Present My Case
“I would present my case before Him
And fill my mouth with arguments.”
3. (:5) Longing to Interact with God’s Responses
“I would learn the words which He would answer,
And perceive what He would say to me.”
C. (:6-7) My Confidence Is that the Resolution Would Turn Out Positive
1. (:6) God Would Not Misuse His Power to Dominate Me
“Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power?
No, surely He would pay attention to me.”
2. (:7) God Would Listen to Reason and Deliver Me
“There the upright would reason with Him;
And I would be delivered forever from my Judge.”
John Hartley: In this pericope Job’s confidence both in his innocence and in the possibility of finding a resolution to his plight has reached a new height.
Spurgeon: He has confidence in the Lord that, if he could have an audience with him, God would not use his power against him; but, on the contrary, would strengthen him in order that he might state his case.
David Clines: Such a case would be bound to prevail, Job means to say—not because God is fair but because the case is unassailable. . .
It does not matter, in the end, whether Job is confident of a fair hearing from God or not, for he can set forth his case before him only if he can reach God’s dwelling place—and that is an impossible dream, as Job himself recognized when he started out on this train of thought at the beginning of v 3: “Oh, that I knew how I might find him” means, first and last, that there is no chance whatever of finding him and having one’s case heard.
II. (:8-12) MY ATTITUDE FLUCTUATES BETWEEN FRUSTRATION AND CONFIDENCE
Elmer Smick: Job is still frustrated, however, over the matter of finding God (cf. v.3). Job cannot find him, though he has searched for him in every direction (vv.8–9). God is absent. Later in 42:5 Job will say, “But now my eyes have seen you.” But at this point, though he wrestles with God verbally (as he did in chs. 7; 10; 13–14; 17), he has no immediate sense of God’s presence or of God’s voice communicating with him.
Francis Andersen: A more literal translation … yields: ‘But he (God) knows (his) way with me.’ Because God knows what He is doing with Job, Job is coming to a point where he will be satisfied even if God never explains the reason for His strange conduct. Earlier Job had demanded to know why God was dealing with him thus, and he found his trial insufferable (7:18). Now he accepts the testing, because he knows: I shall come forth as gold.
A. (:8-9) Attitude of Frustration — God Remains Hidden so Pleading My Case Is Impossible
1. (:8) Cannot Find Him in Front or Behind
“Behold, I go forward but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;”
2. (:9) Cannot Find Him on the Left or the Right
“When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him;
He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.”
John Hartley: He is experiencing God as “the hidden God.” The essential issue for him is how he, an afflicted person, can discover God’s presence. While God haunts those who try to escape him in order to lead them to an awareness of the truth, he becomes imperceptible to his own in seasons of adversity in order that they may search for him, stretching their faith. God’s distancing himself from Job’s consciousness reflects his trust in Job. That is, by hiding from Job, he allows Job to assert his innocence as a venture of genuine commitment to God.
B. (:10) Attitude of Confidence — My Character and Conduct Will Receive the Gold Seal of Divine Approval
1. My Conduct and Suffering Are Fully Known to God
“But He knows the way I take;”
Spurgeon: I shall ask four questions of every man within reach of my voice. God knoweth the way that you take.
• I will ask you first: Do you know your own way?
• Secondly: Is it a comfort to you that God knows your way?
• Thirdly: Are you tried in the way?
• And, if so, fourthly: Have you confidence in God as to the result of that trial? Can you say with Job, ‘When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold?’
2. My Character and Conduct Will Ultimately Be Vindicated
“When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
John Hartley: After lamenting God’s absenting himself, Job states with conviction that God knows the way that I take. That is, he is sure that God has full knowledge of all his thoughts and actions. Therefore, he believes that when God has finished testing him, he will come forth purified in character, just as gold is purified by passing through fire. Here Job’s assurance that God is concerned with his well-being rises to its highest point.
Job’s use of the analogy of purifying gold for his own testing is another indication that the basic motivation behind his lament is the restoration of his own honor, not the restoration of his wealth. With this metaphor Job is rebutting Eliphaz’s exhortation to lay aside gold and to make God his gold (22:24–25). Rather than owning the precious metal, Job longs for a golden character.
David Guzik: With wonderful faith, Job seemed at this fleeting instant to understand what he could and should in his present crisis. He understood that:
• God still observed Job carefully and had not forgotten him (He knows the way that I take).
• God had a purpose in the crisis, and the purpose was not to punish Job (when He has tested me).
• God would one day bring the trial to an end (I shall come forth).
• God would bring something good from it all (I shall come forth as gold).
• God still valued Job; only precious metal is put through the fire (as gold).
David Clines: vv. 10-14 — The train of thought seems to be this: Despite my desire to find God and present my case to him (vv 3–7), I am unable to find him (vv 8–9). And he is elusive just because (“for,” v 10)—although I am a righteous man who has always kept God’s commands (vv 10–12)—he is determined to make me suffer as long as he wants (vv 13–14). If I were to find him now, and he were to listen to my defense, he would have to admit my innocence, and forthwith desist from his persecution of me; but he is more committed to his plan of harassment than he is to the execution of justice. That is why he will not let me find him.
Adam Clarke: He approves of my conduct; my ways please him. He tries me: but, like gold, I shall lose nothing in the fire; I shall come forth more pure and luminous. If that which is reputed to be gold is exposed to the action of a strong fire, if it be genuine, it will lose nothing of its quality, nor of its weight. If it went into the fire gold, it will come out gold; the strongest fire will neither alter nor destroy it. So Job: he went into this furnace of affliction an innocent, righteous man; he came out the same. His character lost nothing of its value, nothing of its lustre.
David Thompson: There will be times in our lives when we will not be able to figure out just exactly what God is doing. Some God-mocking politician will get elected; some killer will go free; some accident will take someone’s life and we will not be able to explain it. At those moments we need to maintain a steadfast confidence in God that says God is watching and God is sovereign and if we remain faithful, God will refine us as pure gold.
When we find ourselves in low moments, we will not find any help or comfort in the immediate circumstances, but our comfort will be found in knowing about God and His Word and about what He does for faithful people in the future.
C. (:11-12) Personal Testimony of Faith and Obedience
1. (:11) Testimony of Obeying God’s Ways
“My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.”
2. (:12) Testimony of Treasuring God’s Word
“I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”
John Hartley: Job rests his confidence in a redemptive outcome to his trial solidly on his faithful obedience to God. He has directed his feet to follow the steps God has laid out for him without any deviation. In other words, he has not departed from God’s commandment. The commandment is identified as the teaching that comes directly from God’s lips or mouth. In fact, Job states that he has treasured or stored up God’s words in his breast. That is, he has ingrained God’s teachings deep inside him in order to guide his daily life. God’s word hidden in his mind keeps him from sinning (cf. Ps. 119:11). With this affirmation Job rejects as meaningless for him Eliphaz’s exhortation: “Receive instruction from his own mouth, and place his words in your heart” (22:22). Since God’s word has never departed from his thinking, he has no need to restore it back into his heart. These two verses are to this point Job’s boldest assertion of innocence.
III. (:13-17) MY FEAR IS THAT GOD CAN DO WHATEVER HE PLEASES
Tremper Longman: God does what he wants. However, after further consideration, Job’s optimism concerning a potential and hoped-for audience with God dissipates. He remembers that there is none like God (“he is unique”), implying that he makes and lives by his own rules. No one can tell him what to do, not Job or anyone. Whatever he determines concerning Job’s fate is a done deal (v. 14). Job imagines that there may be ideas in God’s mind of which he is not even yet aware. Thus again (21:6) Job expresses his terror of God. After all, God can do whatever he wants to Job, and there is no one to turn him back, no mediator (16:21) or umpire (9:33). Job’s terror or dread is not the same as the “fear” of God that wisdom literature promotes (see Prov. 1:7; Job 28:28; among many other places). Both emotions recognize that God is all-powerful and in control of the cosmos. Both those who are terrified and those who fear God realize that they are no match for the creator of the universe. The difference between those who dread God and those who fear him comes down to how one responds. Those who dread God will run away; not so those who fear him. Even so, Job has no recourse. Though he is depressed and frightened (v. 17b), he will not turn back in his attempt to encounter God and set him straight (v. 17a). He will not be silenced by his terror of God.
John Hartley: Job’s self-confidence is tempered by his meditation on God’s sovereignty. When Job contemplates God’s justice in relationship to his personal obedience of the divine law, he waxes bold and confident. But when his mind turns to the sovereign freedom and majestic holiness of God, fear overwhelms him. Such deep, conflicting emotions account for the fluctuation in Job between confidence and uncertainty. In attempting to build his trust in God, he must fight hard against the terror roused by his suffering.
David Clines: God’s irresistible power and inscrutable behavior made Job afraid (23:13- 17). Nevertheless he determined to confront God with His apparent injustice. What God had planned for Job (v. 14) seemed to him to be an interminable assault on his body.
A. (:13) God Is Uniquely Sovereign
“But He is unique and who can turn Him?
And what His soul desires, that He does.”
Francis Andersen: The statement that ‘He is One’ carries with it an affirmation of God’s sole sovereignty. ‘He does what his own heart desires’ (NEB). And the plans of God are multifarious beyond human comprehension (14b). Job is already coming close to the point he will reach at the end of the story. And how different his God is from the domesticated God of his friends. Yet Job’s God is not lost in his own vastness. Job cannot scale the heights of ‘the steep and trifid God’, but he knows that God’s plans are focused on himself personally (14a).
B. (:14) God Performs His Plans for Me
“For He performs what is appointed for me,
And many such decrees are with Him.”
John Hartley: This confession alludes to the great confession of God in ancient Israel: “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh, our God, Yahweh is One.” But this does mean that Job is making that particular confession. His confession means that there is no other God; God is both the source and the sustainer of all that exists. Job asks lamentingly, Who can turn or influence this great God? No one! God acts freely—whatever he desires he does. Job is not, however, charging God with acting capriciously. Rather his distress is that since God is not bound to a mechanistic application of his own laws, he does not have to execute exact retribution immediately. Job fears then that God may carry out that which he has decreed against him. Therefore, he cries out in apprehensive agony that God may let him die before his honor is restored. In any case, Job realizes that his fate is not in his own hands. Job’s struggle for faith reaches its severest test when his confidence in God collides with his fear of God.
David Guzik: Job here seemed to come closer and closer to the place God wanted him to be in his crisis. He comes closer and closer to realizing that God can be trusted, that God does in fact love and care for him; but at the same time He is sovereign, and at least some of His ways are beyond our knowing.
David Clines: I am perfectly innocent, says Job (as in 9:21), but that does not make any difference to the way God treats me. He is determined upon his persecution of me, and there is no deflecting him from his purpose.
Albert Barnes: I am now meeting only what has been determined by his eternal plan. I know not what is the “reason” why it was appointed; but I see that God had resolved to do it, and that it is vain to resist him. So when we suffer, we may say the same thing. It is not by chance or hap-hazard that we are afflicted; it is because “God” has “appointed” that it should be so. It is not by passion or caprice on his part; not by sudden anger or wrath; but it is because he had determined to do it as a part of his eternal plan. It is much, when we are afflicted, to be able to make this reflection. I had rather be afflicted, feeling that it is “the appointment of God,” than feeling that it is “by chance” or “hap-hazard.” I had rather think that it is a part of a plan calmly and deliberately formed by God, than that it is the result of some unexpected and uncontrollable cause. In the one case, I see that mind and thought and plan have been employed, and I infer that there is a “reason” for it, though I cannot see it; in the other, I can see no proof of reason or of wisdom, and my mind finds no rest. The doctrine of divine purposes or decrees, therefore, is eminently adapted to give consolation to a sufferer. I had infinitely rather be under the operation of a plan or decree where there “may” be a reason for all that is done, though I cannot see it, than to feel that I am subject to the tossings of blind chance, where there can possibly be no reason.
C. (:15-17) God Scares Me Because He Might Choose to Afflict Me to Death
1. (:15) Terrified by God Presence
“Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence;
When I consider, I am terrified of Him.”
2. (:16) Dismayed by God’s Appointed Afflictions
“It is God who has made my heart faint,
And the Almighty who has dismayed me,”
3. (:17) Not Silenced in the Face of Imminent Death
“But I am not silenced by the darkness,
Nor deep gloom which covers me.”
John Hartley: The darkness (ḥōšeḵ) cuts Job off from beholding God, and gloom (ʾōpel), settling over him, obscures God’s presence. That is, he cannot detect God’s grace anywhere. Since darkness and gloom are closely associated with Sheol (cf. 3:4–7; 10:21–22; 38:17), this strong language indicates that Job feels the breath of death on his face.
David Clines: What is clear, despite the exegetical problems, is that his thought, as so often, has taken a downward turn, a dying fall. The language of longing with which the speech opened has given place to a depressive language that entertains no future. There is something worse than all his sufferings: the darkness that covers him is “not only his suffering, but his complete helplessness in the face of reality” (Budde). This powerful depiction of a legal encounter with God has in the end only served to sharpen his sense of God’s injustice in his own case and total irresponsibility in the governance of the world. For it was all a falsity, that longing for being listened to and treated fairly, and the darkness means precisely that there is nothing to be seen, no end to his own suffering, no pattern for the universe, no contours, and no meaning.